Let's take a trip down under to the land of prawns and koala bears. Visiting today is Australian author, Chris Pearce as he takes on a bit of history in his novel A Weaver's Web. With reviews piling up, he graciously agreed to an interview. Join me in welcoming him to the blog!
Was there a point in your life that prompted your desire to write or have you always wanted to be an author?
CP: Writing is something that has always been with me. In Grade 1, when the rest of the kids were sitting on the floor listening to the teacher read a story, I would sit at my desk and write. By Grade 3 or 4, we’d be told to write a one page story; I would write six pages, finishing it at home. I started about four novels between the ages of 11 and 14 but didn’t get more than about a third of the way with any of them.
I told Mum I wanted to be an author but she said I needed to get a proper job. I got into accountancy, same as Dad, and lasted four years. Most of my jobs over the years have involved a lot of writing, so I’ve been lucky in that regard. But I was busy with work, study and life in general, and rarely thought about writing a book.
That changed in the late 1980s. I read a history book on the state of Queensland (Australia), where I had recently moved to. There were a couple of paragraphs on a convict and castaway who would change the course of history in this part of the world. No full length book had been written on this person, so I researched and wrote one, Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway.
DAB: Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?
CP: The idea for my novel A Weaver’s Web came from my non-fiction book on the convict. Pamphlett grew up in Manchester in the early 19th century. So I had done quite a bit of research into Manchester in those early Industrial Revolution years and the atrocious living and working conditions of virtually all of its inhabitants. This became the setting for the novel.
My next novel will be a look at life about eighty years into the future. The idea for this one came about because of my interest in a wide range of social issues and problems and thinking through possible improvements or solutions to them.
DAB: Were there any characters you found difficult to write?
CP: I would have to say that my character Henry Wakefield in A Weaver’s Web presented some difficulties. He is such a complex person, always having the best interests of his family in mind, but so often his actions have the opposite effect. We see this in the early chapters where Henry won’t let family members work in the new factories, with the result that they remain in abject poverty, and son Albert runs away to make his fortune.
Later when Henry’s love of money overrides his hatred of factories and starts one of his own, the Wakefields become quite wealthy but Henry holds the purse strings. Albert is caught stealing from an associate of Henry’s and is transported to New South Wales. Henry’s wife Sarah suffers due to her baby’s death, the unknown fate of Albert, and the pressure of society parties that Henry insists are necessary for business. She hears voices and is taken to the lunatic asylum.
DAB: Who is your favorite character in your novel, and why?
CP: Sarah Wakefield would be my favourite character. She suffers endlessly at the hands of Henry but still bounces back and does all she can to look after her family. Her hospitality is shown in the first chapter when Henry wants to send a factory agent on his way but Sarah wants to let him shelter from the rain and to give him lunch (potatoes) even though there is hardly enough to go round the family.
Later in the book, Sarah wants to work in Henry’s factory, because they have a maid and a cook at home and she wants something to do. He refuses, telling her that she is lady of the house and as such cannot be seen to be working in a factory. Sarah rebels and starts up her own business at the market selling shoes, unbeknown to Henry.
DAB: Do you write full-time or part-time? If full-time, tell us about the journey to full-time. If part-time, share with us about your “day” job.
CP: These days I write on a full-time basis. I wrote on a part-time basis for many years and was busy with work and other things. That all changed in 2012. I had been in the state public service here in Queensland for 18 years when a new Liberal National Party government decided that 14,000 public servants would go. I drew one of the short straws in that lottery.
I quite liked my job. It was at a place called the Office of Economic and Statistical Research, part of Queensland Treasury. I edited reports and publications, researched various issues and sorted out statistical things. I probably would have stayed till 65 or so (2017).
Ironically, about two weeks after I finished, I was asked to edit the new government’s 1000 page Commission of Audit report into government finances and programs, the economy, etc.
DAB: What kind of research practices do you utilize for writing?
CP: These days I search the internet for most of my information. I usually like to read about half a dozen sites or web pages on any particular issue as this will generally give me different perspectives. I don’t mind using the likes of Wikipedia. It often provides the best overall summary of many historical topics and is a good starting point.
My research for the convict book was done before the web. It involved sifting through dusty old records in libraries and archives office. I always found it important to note full details of the source of any information at the time of finding things rather than later on during the actual writing process.
DAB: There's the eternal debate whether to outline or not. What is your preference?
CP: I think it depends on the writer and what you are writing. Some fiction genres might lend themselves more to pure creativity and the writer might prefer to just write and see where it goes. For most historical fiction, I think you need a plan, and you also need to be careful that you are not just giving an account of some historical event.
For me, I prefer to have some sort of plan in place before I write. But I like the plan to be flexible enough to make changes as I go. For A Weaver’s Web, I put together an overall plan of a couple of pages where I thought the story might go. Then for each chapter or two or three, I had a more detailed plan. I made quite a few changes to the overall plan and many to the various chapter plans. The whole thing kind of evolved.
DAB: How do you handle negative feedback about your novel(s)?
CP: I take it on board. A professional appraiser for A Weaver’s Web made various comments and I made a lot of changes at that stage. A few literary agents out of well over 100 that I contacted had negative comments, but I don’t think the same comment ever came up twice. Perhaps it shows how subjective fiction writing can be. I made no significant changes to the novel during this period.
The other day, I got my first three star rating. That’s fine. As I said, fiction writing in very subjective and whatever you write, not everyone is going to love it. If I kept getting mainly five star reviews and a few four star reviews and nothing else (as I have), people might think I’m getting family and friends to write great reviews.
I haven’t approached the person who gave the novel three stars and don’t intend to. If I ever did respond to negative or less than excellent feedback, I would do it privately. I wouldn’t write stuff on my blog or any other public site disagreeing with a rating or review.
DAB: What are some things you’ve done to get the word out about your novel(s)?
CP: Basically, I have aimed to give it as much publicity as possible. This includes doing interviews like this one; this is my third. I got my publisher, Australian eBook Publisher, to distribute it to a large number of sites. It’s on about a dozen Amazon sites of different countries, as well as Google Play, Kobo, and Apple iTunes.
I have started a blog, where I post various things relating to my novel and other writing. I have joined Goodreads, Shelfari and Librarything. I find the self-serve ads at Goodreads are a good way to generate publicity. I have also approached a number of people who review books and post those reviews on their blogs and often Amazon, Goodreads, etc. I have sent details to sites that promote books. I have sent details to the Manchester Evening News and hope to get a review there. I have increased my presence on Facebook.
DAB: Do you have any writing pointers for the authors in our audience?
CP: I think you have to write because you love doing it rather than have thoughts of becoming rich and famous or even making a living from it. Write the best story you can with good characters and a lot happening. Do plenty of rewriting, editing and proofreading. Go right through your manuscript perhaps 5-10 times. Get a professional appraiser to have a look at it.
Don’t be discouraged by rejections. It happens to everyone. There are some stories about major prize winning authors having their work sent to literary agents and publishers as an experiment and their work was rejected by all or virtually all of them. J. K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers. When she finally found one, they advised her to get a day job as there wouldn’t be a huge market for her writing.
I would still start off seeking traditional publication, sending a fiction manuscript to literary agents and a non-fiction one to publishers. If a writer gets a couple of dozen rejections, I would start thinking about an ebook.
DAB: Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?
CP: I’m going to publish Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway as an ebook later in 2014. The print version has been out quite a while. I have written about a quarter of a book on the history of daylight saving time and intend to finish this and publish it as an ebook late in 2015. I also have some notes and thoughts on a novel set about eighty years into the future.
DAB: Now’s your chance – give us the final plug for your novel.
CP: A Weaver’s Web is about poor handloom weaver Henry Wakefield and his family in the Manchester
The novel has a star average of 4.7 at Amazon and I don’t know any of the reviewers. It has been compared to the writing of Dickens, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald and Dos Passos. One reviewer named it as their book of the year.
My inspiration for writing A Weaver's Web came out of a postgraduate creative writing course I topped from 30 students back in the 1990's. I pursued traditional publication for a long time. But when a UK literary agent compared my novel to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (which appears in several lists of top 10 novels of last century) and still couldn't take it, I figured it was time to go the indie route and publish it as an ebook.
Once again, a big thank you to Chris Pearce for taking time away from his writing to peruse the pages of the blog with us. You can find information about him and his novels here at his website and Facebook or to purchase click here on Amazon.